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Policymakers Take Gates-Funded Trip to Study ELLs

The American Youth Policy Forum has published a policy brief about what state policymakers learned during a May "fact-finding trip" to Austin, Texas, about the education of English-language learners. The trip was funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and focused on a project, also funded by the Gates Foundation, to revamp instruction for ELLs at the secondary level in Austin. (I'll mention here as well that Editorial Projects in Education, the publisher of Education Week, has received some grants from the Gates Foundation.)

The project centers on the implementation of a professional development model developed by AĆ­da Walqui of WestEd called Quality Teaching for English Learners, or QTEL, in the Austin Independent School District. I've been very interested in QTEL and have been wanting to take a fact-finding trip to Austin myself to see how the approach to coaching content teachers on how to work with ELLs has been working. It's a whole-school reform model based on the premise that all teachers in a school need to ensure that ELLs have access to rigorous academic content and that principals and other administrators need to be on board with the effort as well, according to the policy brief. You can find a description of QTEL by WestEd here.

Berkeley Policy Associates has embarked on a five-year random assignment study of QTEL being underwritten by the U.S. Department of Education, so we're likely to hear more about the effectiveness of the educational approach in the next few years.

The participants of the fact-finding trip focused on the use of QTEL at two Austin high schools, International High School and Lanier High School. Since implementation of the approach, test scores have risen for all students at these schools, with the greatest gains for ELLs, the policy brief reports. Teachers at the schools report that QTEL has given them a common instructional language and strategies they didn't learn in pre-service training, according to the brief.

The visit also focused on what the Texas Education Agency does to support the academic achievement of ELLs. The agency has formed a working group on ELLs with representatives of various departments who meet regularly and aim to "elevate the priority of ELL education within TEA," the policy brief says.

The May trip included state education agency staff, state board of education members, or policy advisers for governors from Illinois, Kentucky, Nebraska, New Hampshire, and Virginia.

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